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Glenn D. Braunstein, M.D. Headshot

Boooooooo! What Tricks, Treats Terrify You?

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It's that time of year when little kids pull on masks and troll the neighborhood for candy, while adults overspend on costumes and thousands from all over Southern California flock to theme parks to have the daylights scared out of them.

It's the season of Halloween, or maybe Dia de Los Muertos, and besides carving pumpkins, loading up on mini-bags of peanut M&Ms and thinking lots about the dead, we also pause at this time of year to, sort of, celebrate our fears.

This is a bad thing if you happen to suffer from arachnophobia or choroptophobia -- fear of spiders and bats respectively. Or perhaps if you're terrified of ghosts, phasmophobia, or witches, wiccaphobia, then this is not your favorite celebration. Maybe you suffer from sanguivoriphobia -- literally, fear of the blood eaters. This covers vampires, and perhaps even the chupacabra, the mythical beast that sucks the blood of farm animals.

All of this could add up to a serious case of samhainophobia: the fear of Halloween.

Instead of developing crippling terror, in an autumnal spirit, I'd encourage you to face up to some scary stuff, especially if you fear one of the following:

Conquer Aichmophobia (Fear of Needles) and Vaccinophobia (Fear of Vaccines)

It's not only candy that's passing freely hand-to-hand. It's flu season, and germs abound. Don't skip your annual flu shot. If you fear needles, there's a brand new shot available to those who are 18 to 65 years old that requires only a tiny skin-prick instead of the traditional inch-long needle. There's also a nose-spray version available. This year's vaccine protects against three strains of flu, including the H1N1 virus -- the so-called swine flu -- that caused a pandemic in 2009.

The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 3,000 to 49,000 die from flu each year, and its No. 1 recommendation for preventing this nasty disease is the yearly vaccine. The flu isn't just a bad cold -- it's a serious illness that can spawn some vicious complications, including pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus infections. That's on top of the misery of your run-of-the-mill case with fever, chills, cough, sore throat, muscle and body aches, headaches and fatigue.

Other lines of defense, after procuring your flu shot, include frequent hand washing, avoiding close contact with those who are sick and staying home when you're sick to avoid spreading the illness. Of course, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

Aside from needles, there's another common fear associated with the flu shot -- that the shot itself will cause the flu. This fear makes as much sense as worrying about boogeymen under your bed. The flu shot does not cause the flu. The viruses used to make the vaccine are killed in the process, and randomized, blind studies confirmed the only symptom more likely to happen in a subject who received the flu shot rather than salt water was soreness in the arm and redness at the injection site.

And if you're silly enough still give any credence to the bogus assertions and wildly exaggerated claims about the dangers of vaccinations, well, please sit alone in the dark on Oct. 31 and see if your goody bag fills itself. You must believe in magic.

Prepare to Overcome Seismophobia

A fear of earthquakes might be reasonable in Southern California. But before it escalates to a paralyzing phobia, get yourself and your loved ones prepared for earthquakes and other natural disasters. This advance work just could save you in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

That's right. A zombie apolcalypse. At least, that was the clever reasoning of the CDC earlier this year when it seized on the popularity of the walking, decaying dead to encourage disaster preparedness, creating a Zombie Task Force.

The basic survival kit is identical for both preternatural visitations and those likely to occur when Mother Nature exerts her fury. (Though, zombie aficionados would probably include a cricket bat.) For starters, stock up on: water (1 gallon per person per day); nonperishable foods; medications; a utility knife; duct tape; a battery-powered-radio; hygiene items; clothing and bedding; copies of your driver license, passport and birth certificate; and basic first aid supplies and instructions. For more details, The CDC and American Red Cross provide a good checklist.

Thanatophobic? Plan for End-of-Life Care While Able, Healthy

When we're afraid of grave illness and death, we often react with denial. We see ourselves as spry centenarians, passing after cocktail hour and a delightful repast with our beloveds surrounding us on a tropical isle. The reality, far more often, is chronic illness, pain management, medical interventions and questions about where we live and who will care for us.

Speak candidly with your doctor and loved ones about creating an advance care directive, a document putting down your wishes on paper about how you want to live in the event of a serious injury or illness. Consider carefully what it would mean to be on a respirator or a feeding tube for a long period. Speak in simple terms about your limits for impairment of your body, mind and function. Draft the document, and then put it where it can be found easily in a time of need, a service offered by California's Advance Directive Registry.

It's not too early for adults of any age to plan for their death. Do you want to register as an organ donor, say, with Donate Life California? More than 21,000 Californians need organ transplants. An organ donation could save the lives of as many as eight people -- and tissue donation could help as many as 50 more.

Change Will Keep Coming, Tropophobics

Fear of change is natural, especially in a brutal economy where millions have been hit with layoffs and tough times. To embrace change, learn how to start with healthy steps you can take such as giving up smoking. It's a leading cause of preventable death in the United States -- and you've been meaning to quit for a long time, especially since you told yourself you really take a puff just to get a break from a job you really hate.

Get more exercise into your daily routine, even if it's just a walk. Exercise doesn't have to mean a trip to the gym -- though treating yourself to a gym membership and that daily time-out might be just the incentive you need. If you decide to work with a personal trainer, be choosy and select someone with up-to-date credentials and mastery of many exercise disciplines, who pays attention to both cardio and resistance, and who teaches you exercises you can tackle on your own after your paid sessions end.

If you've pledged to shape up your diet, especially before the big-calorie holidays, think about where as much as what you eat. Try the kitchen table in your own home. Studies have shown family dinners tend to be meals that are more nutrient-rich; kids who eat with their families consume less fried food, soda, salt and unhealthy fats.

And Back to Choroptophobia

While our irrational fears largely can be addressed with planning and practicality, the bizarre does occur. In the summer of 2010, villagers in a remote area of Peru fell prey to rabid, blood-sucking vampire bats. More than 500 were bitten and four died. Rabies attacks the central nervous system, causing fever, headache and general weakness and discomfort. As the disease progresses, more symptoms appear including insomnia, confusion, hallucinations, paralysis, increased salivations and fear of water -- hydrophobia. Within days of these symptoms' onset, victims often die. Rabies can be prevented with a vaccine and immunoglobulin after exposure -- but it must be administered before symptoms appear.

Rabid vampire bats have been a growing problem in the Amazon, with four outbreaks in two years reported in Peru. The country's Ministry of Health, with an assist from the CDC, is addressing the rabies problem through a pre-exposure vaccination campaign.

The likelihood of similar vampire bats plaguing Los Angeles with rabies? Unlikely. Be more afraid of running out of Halloween candy too early -- or worse -- being surrounded by bags of mini-chocolate bars and succumbing to the temptation to devour them all. Of course you might just be busting the family budget with tricks and treats -- that Day of the Dead shrine or art piece or costuming the entire family, down to the dog and cat, as characters from the Smurfs, Transformers or Harry Potter. That, in turn, might set off a bout of peniaphobia -- the fear of being poor. Stay safe and don't stuff yourselves.